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MontanaFair

Mighty Thomas Carnival workers build rides and games for MontanaFair Friday, Aug.10. 

Martin Cummins loves going to the MontanaFair, but he uses a wheelchair, and he has a hard time navigating the fairground.

Large electrical cords and hoses covered with plastic or rubber mats crisscross between rides and concession stands. Rolling over the cords can be difficult, said Misty Aquilar, Cummins’ fiancée. "I usually have to turn him backwards to get him over them,” Aquilar said.

Cummins’ left leg was amputated last year because of a blood clot. While cords are an obstacle, Cummins said that people are accommodating.

Temporary events, like the MontanaFair, are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide accessibility to those with disabilities.

According to the Northwest ADA Center, poor accessibility can reduce building or venue usage, which results in a loss in investment. Ray Massie, MetraPark marketing and sales director, said that he hasn’t received complaints about accessibility on the fairgrounds.

Buildings on the property, including the Montana Pavilion, the Expo Center, and the First Interstate Arena, are fully accessible, he said. In 2011, a new stroller- and wheelchair-friendly switchback walkway was installed to connect the upper parking lot to the First Interstate Arena.

MetraPark isn't planning any new improvements at this time.

The fairground's other buildings, like the barns and smaller outdoor stage areas surrounded by grass, can pose a barrier for some.

Massie said that ramps are set up over concrete curbs and about 170 ADA-accessible parking spaces are available. Buses also transport fair-goers from upper parking lots and to different buildings. Fairground staff drive carts around the grounds to look for anyone who needs a lift.

“We’re very focused on making sure that all of our guests have a great time,” Massie said.

Theresa Putman, who uses an electric wheelchair, said that she wishes there were more private, family restrooms. She said that while visiting the fair, she had to talk to a fairground employee to find an accessible restroom. The employee was accommodating, and even closed off one restroom to others so she could use it.

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Jeff Seward, MetraPark director of operations, said that there are no family restrooms on the fairground, except for one in the First Interstate Arena. Many bathrooms have accessible stalls and adhere to ADA protocols. 

The mats that are used on the fairgrounds to cover hoses and cords are supplied by the Thomas Carnival. Seward said that it’s easier for a wheelchair to go over the mats than to go over the hard plastic ramps MetraPark uses in the arena.

The ramps stand about an inch-and-a-half off the ground and run about $300 for a piece that’s four feet long.

“They’re a little higher because the cords actually fit in them,” Seward said. “They cover the cords, so they’re raised up a little higher. They’ve got a ramp on each side but it’s still more difficult to get over them than going over a half-inch cord.”

John Hanschen, president of Thomas Carnival Inc., said that the carnival will help accommodate anyone who needs it. Those who have a disability can get assistance on a ride. Employees talk to customers on a case-by-case basis.

“We ask for their input. Is this going to be safe and comfortable for you?” Hanschen said. “The most important thing for us is the safety and comfort of our customers and of our employees and of our colleagues.”

Customers can talk to carnival employees about the speed and duration of a ride, and they can request for a ride to move slower and finish sooner.

“I always encourage customers, when they have to decide whether to ride a piece of equipment or not, to watch it in operation once or twice,” he said.

Over the past 43 years, Hanschen has denied access to a few riders because of a health condition. Overall, customers enjoy their time at the fair.

Hanschen said that employees can assist individuals out of wheelchairs and onto rides, as well as assign a companion to someone who needs help navigating the fair.

“What we’re told at seminars and meetings that we go to is that our best customer service comes when we evaluate and assist on a case-by-case basis. We try to help everyone we can and not rule out a particular situation or circumstance or condition.”

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